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The power of memes in Slovakia

2 min read

Tapping into the popular cultural phenomenon of ‘memes’ in the digital world, the Human Rights Institute (HRI) has achieved remarkable results in tackling the preconceptions and stereotypes inflicted on the Roma population in Slovakia.

As a visual interface that incorporates both humour and information, memes act as an accessible medium on social media platforms for addressing contentious topics, such as the recent rapid increase in fake news.

The spread of fake news surrounding the Roma community is a key reason why misconceptions about them have become so engrained amongst the general populace, and thus HRI prioritized tackling this problem in their campaign objectives.

Thus, HRI distributed six different memes on a newly created Instagram account and their Facebook page and website, to maximise reach to a wide-ranging age demographic. 

The campaign was extremely successful with engagement from the online community, proving to be quite a revolutionary method in quelling online hate speech against Roma. 

Although HRI was concerned that the use of humour and sarcasm in addressing stereotypes of Roma people could be misinterpreted, it was actually well received and allowed HRI to convey complex messages through a simplified meme format.

For example, a significant stigma faced by the community in Slovakia is the unfair perception that they exploit the social benefit system, with Roma regularly accused of being the sole beneficiaries of state handouts.

HRI’s meme on this topic, which made it apparent that Roma people could not ‘all be on benefits’, attracted many positive responses. As comments on online posts dealing with contentious topics, such as this in Slovakia, are typically negative, the supportive feedback from this campaign suggested it had been very effective in countering the immense challenge of fake news and hate speech in the online world.

(Translation) – “What if I told you / that social benefits are received by 2,7% and there is 7,5% Roma, therefore they cannot be “all receiving benefits“

(Translation) – ‘For the first three children you get 830 euros when they are born, for the fourth and every other only 151 euros. So tell me how is it worth it for Roma women to have children for money.’

Memes are one of the best ways to reach wider online audiences, and HRI chose this tactic because they wanted to focus on people who are heavy internet users. By choosing imagery common in not just the main platforms but smaller chatrooms, they instantly managed to get more attention to their campaign. While the memes were funny, in their articles accompanying the memes HRI went into greater depth about the issues, busting popular misconceptions about the Roma community with facts, data and, of course, humour.